There is no peace in the Pine Creek Valley as a situation that has developed over the past few years has pitted long-time residents against landlords offering short-term rentals, which, in many cases leads to loud parties and traffic jams.
What started as the discovery of a basically unspoiled area in the heart of central Pennsylvania – where large waterfowl can be seen perched on rocks in the waters of Pine Creek – has turned into a lucrative opportunity for investors, many of whom come from outside. in the area, who are buying properties along the creek.
This is a premier fishing waterway with people from all over the country coming to stretches of this waterway, which begins in Potter County, for drop-in trout fishing. the water. No one wants these waters wasted by sewage from overtaxed systems, the result of too many people occupying a structure that was not built to accommodate that number.
Offsite landlords who aren’t on hand to monitor rentals are causing concern for residents who have lived in the area year-round or have had cottages there for generations.
Dr. George Durrwachter was born and raised in the Pine Creek Valley and still maintains a cabin there. He sees the problem with short-term rentals “Exponential growth.”
“When I was a kid, a lot of people had cabins and rented them out. It wasn’t a real problem like it is today, because people owned them and you would know who owned them. » said Durrwachter.
“It becomes an investment today. It’s the absent owner. Some managers, whom we don’t even know either, it’s a real problem. Most people who live here and rent cabins, they look after them, run them and do a great job,” he added.
According to Mark Haas, supervisor of development services in the county’s Department of Planning and Community Development, the first rumors that there was a growing problem along Pine Creek were brought to the county planning commission. Lycoming last year.
“They asked us to look at an ordinance solution to help them manage this rapidly growing land use – and it is a growing land use,” Haas told the planning commission at their last meeting.
“Not only are people renting out their summer homes, rooms in their houses and the like, but they’re also buying structures and turning them into short-term rentals. Basically, they turn them into hotels,” Haas said.
Short-term rentals are defined as someone who rents an accommodation or room for less than 30 days. Beyond this period, it is considered a residence. Although vacation rentals have been around for many years, the concept behind landlords allowing guests to rent a room or their entire home and pay by credit card over the internet is a newer concept.
“With the Internet, we attract people from New York and Baltimore. They come here for a vacation, they forget who they’re intruding on, and so on. Nobody wants to call the police all the time,” Durrwachter told commission members.
“The problem is that people arrive and they forget that they are in a neighborhood. Some of these places are in a neighborhood. They come there and throw parties at night, bark dogs and shoot AK-47s,” said Durrwachter.
“They’re on vacation, but the guy next door isn’t on a Tuesday night at 10 p.m.” said McHenry Township Supervisor Frank Posella.
Posella told the planning commission about two rental properties adjacent to his home.
“Two of them in particular over a weekend had 25-30 people each in there. Cars everywhere. I mean it’s two bedrooms, one bathroom,” Poselle said.
“I think that’s one of the biggest things we’re concerned about is sewage. Many of these places are 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years old. It was a hunting cabin that was used five times a year,” he said.
It was also pointed out that many of the older properties might not have septic tanks, but rather toilets or outhouses that have been converted into septic tanks, making the situation even worse.
Haas talked about a property that is essentially a remodeled mobile home.
“They can only suit a certain number of people. Once they rented it, they went up and set up a big party tent and there were about 50 people on the property,” he told the commission.
“It puts a strain on all forms of existing infrastructure. Private wells, parking problems because it takes parking, they end up parking on the roads and streets and it’s a danger”, he said.
Although local residents are concerned about the problems with short-term rentals, they are not looking to shut them down. They don’t tell people they can’t make money renting out their properties. They want their concerns addressed and solutions found to the problems created by short-term rentals without being binding.
“Just something you can point and say hi, you’re a little over the line. It’s nice to have your Vrbo or Airbnb or whatever you want to call a short-term rental, but with all due respect, you know, you’ve got 30 people here in a place that was built for three », he said.
Although a meeting of the Pine Creek Governing Council that Haas attended earlier this year was controversial, with rental owners unhappy that the county was trying to tell them what they could do with their properties, the meeting of this month was calmer with Haas introducing an interim modification to the order to address short-term rentals.
If enacted, the registration-like ordinance, which is still in the exploratory phase, would apply to all townships in the county that are part of the county’s zoning partnerships and would be administered by the county. All these entities received a copy of the amendment.
Detailing the change to the COG order, Haas said use would be permitted as of right in all zoning districts and a Zoning Hearing Board would be required.
In order to register their short-term rental property with the county, landlords would need to provide information such as proof of adequate sewage treatment.
“Okay, is the property’s septic system capable of handling X number of people?” Haas said.
Landlords would need to provide proof of adequacy of building code compliance, which they would likely already be meeting.
Another issue addressed in the ordinance is a declaration of maximum occupancy.
“It’s going to stop people saying two people would rent a site and all of a sudden there’s a bunch of people there with a big party tent, parking here and there and basically being bad actors. We are trying to stop them from doing that,” Haas explained.
General requirements for insurance and flood evacuation plans would also be part of the order.
“I think everyone here knows how fast Pine Creek can go. It’s the same when you check into a hotel and look at the back of the door, there’s an exit map showing where to go in the event of a fire,” he said.
“We don’t ask for anything else different” he added.
Maintenance of the property, in particular the removal of rubbish, would be dealt with in the ordinance.
There would also be an application process for problematic rentals, Haas noted.
“After a formal notification that there is a problem, once the complaint comes to our office, we present a formal notification that their license could be taken away, revoked, what if they don’t resolve the issues ?” Haas said.
“It’s going to be a simple thing. We’re just asking people to do what normally needs to be done for any type of these situations,” he said.
Some suggestions from Pine Creek COG members that they felt should be included in the ordinance were that properties should have a property manager, someone who could be made aware of issues, who lives within 25 miles of property and that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors be installed in rentals.
Commercial or direct ownership of rentals has also been discussed, but Posella said designating them as commercial adds regulations that would be restrictive.
“When you walk into the commercial, you now start talking about fire protection, your smoke alarm, ADA compliant – there’s a whole host of things that drive the commercial,” he said.
“We’ve talked about them being a motel (or a) hotel, which to some degree is analogous. But once you cross that line into the commercial, it becomes building codes…there’s all sorts of ramifications from residential to commercial that would be restrictive,” he added.
“Our biggest thing, when looking at a zoning ordinance or any type of zoning change – three things, health, safety and general well-being”, Haas said.
“We’re not doing this to be a pain. We do this to protect these three things,” he added.
Mike Yohe, a Cummings Township supervisor at the COG meeting, pointed to the difficulties with regulating burgeoning short-term rentals.
“Yeah, I mean you’re really trying to thread the needle on that.” We all realize that change is happening and inevitable and we try to stay one step ahead, but without upsetting the nature and character of what we have,” said Yohe. Posella provided additional insight into the dilemma.
“But it’s going to be one of those issues where you’re going to have one side very happy and the other side very angry. There’s no two ways about it,” Poselle said.